Each year, British Journal of Photography presents its Ones To Watch – a selection of 20 emerging image-makers, chosen from a list of nearly 450 nominations. Collectively, they provide a window into where photography is heading, at least in the eyes of the curators, editors, agents, festival producers and photographers we invited to nominate. Throughout the next few weeks, we will be sharing profiles of the 20 photographers, originally published in the latest issue of BJP, delivered direct with an 1854 Subscription.
Nominated by our Ones to Watch 2021, we present the first chapter of our Ones to Watch: Community featuring Agnieszka Sosnowska, Stephanie Kulisch, Agustin Hernandez, Kristina Sergeeva, Miki Hasegawa and Michelle Piergoelam
“If I try to create images with the goal of a ‘project’ in mind, then the photographs stay within those lines,” Agnieszka Sosnowska explains. “When I’ve worked that way in the past – it destroyed my way of looking, and I nearly gave up photography.” The Polish American photographer, who lives on a farm in East Iceland, works with her local community, capturing the ebb and flow of rural life. What began as a process of assimilating to a new country has evolved into a life-changing collaboration.
The sensation of stillness is one of the most magnetic qualities of Sosnowska’s work. Her images of people and their environments trade in the world of feelings, energy and symbolism: twisting bodies in the boot of a car, a ghostly apparition of sea spray, a man tenderly holding skinned reindeer hooves close to his chest. Together they describe our precarious, symbiotic coexistence with nature and what it means to occupy this moment of rupture without any sign of repair. “Her work reminds me of a soft mixture of Andrea Modica, Barbara Bosworth, and Vanessa Winship,” says Donavon Smallwood, who nominated Sosnowska. “She seems to live a modest life of grace and art.”
Flughafensee, an ongoing series by Stephanie Kulisch, explores the temporary communities that occupy the area around a lake near Berlin’s Tegel Airport. For the last six years, she has spent time among the winding footpaths, beaches and woodland, forming relationships and making work with a myriad of strangers. “It is a place of retreat and a point of reference for many different people,” Kulisch explains. “I’ve met German Turks like Ahmed, the former acrobat Galina, refugee children, and inmates from the nearby prison. I’m interested in the ways people shape this environment and a sense of belonging that may not always be beautiful.”
Throughout her practice, Kulisch uses landscapes to evoke interior states. Tender portraits and subtle observations create a reflection of everyday life that transcends the surface and begins to unravel the tension that lingers below. In Flughafensee, this manifests around the politics of space – the act of coming together and the endless ways we seek refuge and release. “What I like about Kulisch is the way she focuses on quiet, atmospheric moments, rather than strong symbols or grand gestures,” Muhammad Salah explains in his nomination. “Her work presents a draw to everyday moments where she uses light and shade as a structural and storytelling element.”
“As a first-generation queer Mexican-American, I learned how to exist in a highly masculine culture as a sensitive and feminine boy,” says Agustin Hernandez. Growing up surrounded by the pressure of living up to machismo ideals within a devout Catholic community forced him to suppress his true identity from a young age – until he found photography. Ever since, he has been driven by a passionate impulse to defy the mainstream and create his own vision of desire.
“I’ve been able to manifest a place where I found peace away from the social standards our societies have ingrained in us,” Hernandez explains. “A place where our differences aren’t a major factor, beauty has no boundaries and acceptance, and inclusivity is key.” Hernandez’ images the people and objects that occupy his life, seeking out moments of fragile and imperfect beauty. After years of repressing his feminine impulse, his work has become a vessel for the psychological landscape of self – an empowering act of release and liberation. “His vision is so recognisable,” says Clifford Prince King. “I believe it’s very special when an artist trusts themselves in their process and continues to push their creative practices forward independently, regardless of outside influences.”
Fascinated by unravelling personal histories and the cognitive distortions of perception, the Russian photographer Kristina Sergeeva makes work about the unknown aspects of the human psyche. In her first book How Sasha Litvinov Buried The Gun, she explores the concept of postmemory – a term coined by Professor Marianne Hirsch, describing the relationship that the subsequent generation bears to the personal, collective, and cultural trauma of those who came before. Sergeeva lost her grandfather (Sasha Litvinov) when she was five years old. When her parents disposed of his belongings, she desperately salvaged a box of his things, in an attempt to stay with him after he had gone. Through the documentation of his personal effects, Sergeeva wrestles with the phenomenon of memory and its influence on the present.
Rupture and distortion fill Sergeeva’s frames, animating the anxiety of modern life. In the project Shunya, she takes this a step further, attempting to grapple with the contradictions of emptiness brought on by an era of digital noise. Informed by cognitive science and linguistics, the work is indicative of our current cultural moment and its lasting impacts. “She conveys subtleties of feeling that I am really drawn to,” explains Kristina Rozhkova, who nominated Sergeeva. “The work has such a tactile quality, I just want to touch it.”
From a very young age, I felt that being a child and a woman made it difficult to live in Japanese society,” Miki Hasegawa says. “I was very aware of the many forms of discrimination.” Her series, Internal Notebook, grapples with the lived experience of individuals who grew up in abusive homes and the devastating after-effects of their trauma. Informed by alarming statistics about child death due to abuse, Hasegawa’s photographs do the urgent work of facing complex and violent realities that continue to remain unseen or overlooked.
Through a constellation of portraits, drawings, diary entries and family photographs, Hasegawa pieces together individual narratives validating the invisible injuries that haunt the lives of her subjects. “They suffer depression, self-harm, dissociation, panic attacks, PTSD, and other ailments,” she explains. “But one cannot see these injuries unless one actively looks for them.” The work encapsulates the kind of vulnerable storytelling that can shift thinking and demand action. “I have a lot of respect for her work,” explains Kenji Chiga, who nominated Hasegawa. “It is based on thorough research and sincere confrontation with her subjects on issues that are difficult to visualise.”
For Michelle Piergoelam, Photography is a companion in the journey to trace and explore her Surinamese heritage. The Rotterdam-based artist combines cultural traditions, oral histories, and forgotten stories with a highly conceptual approach to access the unfamiliar and the unknown.
“Photography enables me to transform thoughts into images,” she shares. “My imagination takes over and creates moments and places where I have never been before.” Steeped in symbolism, her rich and poetic photographs reference the unfixed nature of identity, history and truth. Through a continuum of gestures that remain open to interpretation she is witnessing important cultural histories.
Through The untangled tales, Piergoelam visualises the traditions of Anansi storytellers and Angisa-folders, honouring their rituals of communication during years of slavery. “Tales were told that everyone could hear, but not everyone could understand,” she explains. “Angisa’s worn by women were not only beautiful headkerchiefs, but their intricate folds also contained hidden stories and wisdom that could only be read by those who had learned to.” Passed down from generation to generation, these coded stories and actions enabled the enslaved to express themselves without knowledge or consequence from their plantation owners. “The project not only preserves the intangible heritage,” Alex Blanco, who nominated Piergoelam, shares. “But most importantly, allows us to face an important and heavy subject as slavery.”
Creative director, writer, podcaster and photo director, Gem Fletcher works across visual-cultural fields, focusing on emerging talent in contemporary photography and art. She is the photo director of Riposte Magazine, and hosts a photography podcast, The Messy Truth.